Heading to Interlochen this month are a pair of singer-songwriters whose unusual paths to indie stardom at times paralleled each other.
Ray LaMontagne and Jenny Lewis are both pensive, insightful writers and unique vocalists. Their musical careers began in different corners of the country, but merged in ways only a traveling musician’s can.
LaMontagne was born in New Hampshire and grew up in Utah, while Lewis was born and grew up under the bright lights of Las Vegas, NV.
LaMontagne, one of six kids, spent much of his childhood drawing role playing game characters instead of doing his schoolwork; Lewis grew up with a mother who was a professional singer, and a father who was in Johnny Puleo’s mid-50s “Harmonica Gang” band.
But before long, music was calling to both of them.
After high school, LaMontagne moved to Maine. He abruptly quit his job in a shoe factory after hearing a Stephen Stills album and deciding to pursue music instead.
Meanwhile, Lewis was approaching music from a side street. She made her acting debut in a Jell-O commercial, and continued acting with bit parts in TV shows.
In 1998, she formed the band Rilo Kiley with several friends, and it served as the springboard for her solo musical career. A year later across the country LaMontagne began performing live shows.
2004 was another pivotal year for both artists.
During that 12 months, LaMontagne recorded and released his debut album, “Trouble,” with producer Ethan Johns and guest contributions from Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek.)
In a twist of events, Jennifer Stills – Stephen Stills’ musician daughter – also contributed vocals.
Lewis’ first album with Rilo Kiley, “Take- Offs and Landings,” had been released in 2001. But by 2004, she was already ready to drop her own first solo effort, “Rabbit Fur Coat,” on which she collaborated with Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), M. Ward, and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard.
Both artists have also found musical success in other media, as their emotional vocals lend themselves well to TV, films, and their peers’ albums.
LaMontagne’s songs started surfacing in the mid-2000s on TV shows like “Rescue Me,” “Alias,” “One Tree Hill,” and “Bones,” as well as movies “The Boys Are Back” and “The Town.”
Around the same time, Lewis contributed vocals to a Postal Service album, plus several songs by the band Cursive. Later in the 2000s, she’d also sing on sets by Johnathan Rice and Elvis Costello.
Now both LaMontagne and Lewis are going strong, having firmly cemented their place among the indie-rock elite.
Lewis, her current sound described as a “girlish mix of indie rock plus soul,” is releasing her latest solo set, “The Voyager,” on July 29 on Warner Bros. Records.
While LaMontagne’s newest, “Supernova,” just dropped this past April, complete with production from The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.
LaMontagne and Lewis’ opening act for this trek, The Belle Brigade, slightly echoes LaMontagne and Lewis’s story.
Belle Brigade – siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska – invokes the harmonies of The Everly Brothers, with vocals reminiscent of the girlboy dynamic heard in Fleetwood Mac.
They’ve also briefly tapped into the film scene, with their song “I Didn’t Mean It” being selected for the “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” film soundtrack.
And they have a new album, too: “Just Because,” which was just released on ATO Records.
Ray LaMontagne, Jenny Lewis, and The Belle Brigade will be in concert at Interlochen Center for the Arts on July 22 at 7:30pm. For tickets and more, visit tickets.interlochen.org.